“How to write about the entire world from scratch”: Britta Gustafson



Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Many pioneering Wikipedians share the thought that, in its early days, way back in 2001, Wikipedia was a crazy idea. Wikipedian Magnus Manske, for example, told us that back then, Wikipedia “was a ghost town, with just about no content whatsoever.”

These early Wikipedians aimed to grow the online encyclopedia to 100,000 entries, roughly the size of the world’s largest print encyclopedias at that time. This goal turned out to be attainable within two years of hard work, and has doubled nearly 55 times by the time of writing this. That former ghost town on the English Wikipedia currently hosts over 100,000 active contributors.

“I knew we were working on a sort of ridiculous project,” says Britta Gustafson, who joined Wikipedia in October 2001. “How do you write about the entire world from scratch? I certainly didn’t expect that it would grow so big and so serious, with a huge staff and a huge budget, with articles that are mostly pretty reliable.” She continues: “But even as a toy project, it was fun—I liked getting to write about things and then see other people improve my writing and correct my mistakes. I learned a lot about writing that way.”

Gustafson made her first edit because “information on a favorite topic was missing,” and carried on with editing Wikipedia for sixteen years to keep bridging knowledge gaps. Currently, she leads workshops to train beginner editors in person and spends zillions of hours online to advocate their contributions from deletion, when mistaken for vandalism, by community patrols.

Starting to edit at the age of fourteen, Gustafson “grew up with Wikipedia,” she said. It was an eye-opening experience where she “enjoyed reading the recent changes and learning new things about the world … I remember when I could review all the recent changes for vandalism if I checked once a day.” As of this writing, the most recent 50 edits have been made during the last minute.

One of the principal reasons behind Gustafson’s continuous presence on Wikipedia for sixteen years was the welcoming community even though she was a young contributor. “I continued editing because I felt respected for my constructive contributions and treated as an equal by adults,” she explains. “Wikipedia taught me a lot about how to write and work with software and online communities.”

Gustafson has a wide range of topics that she likes to edit about including software, website history, fixing minor issues in the articles she reads and uploading photos of buildings to Wikimedia Commons, but one topic of interest for her stands out in the crowd: places that witnessed mass murders.

Gustafson is particularly interested in editing about the location of a mass murder rather than the incident itself. “I started caring a lot about the impact of mass murders on communities because a place I love, Isla Vista, had a mass murder a few years ago,” she explains. “I was unhappy that this one event was what people would think of for a place with a lot of history and culture.”

Gustafson contributed to Isla Vista’s article on Wikipedia and started a local guide about it on another open-source website.

“A year later, there was the mass murder at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston,” she recalls. “The church itself had only a stub article when I looked it up on Wikipedia after hearing about the murders—and overnight several other Wikipedians and I worked on this article. I helped expand it to tell the long and fascinating history of the church, because I didn’t want 200 years of history to be overwritten by one event. The next day, I saw journalists publishing articles about the history of the church on very short deadlines, and I suspect and hope they used our detailed Wikipedia article as background to help them find the interesting parts to write about and publish fast.”

Photo by Jsm0925, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Gustafson wanted to invest her rich history and experience on Wikipedia by sharing what she learned with new editors. These days, she can be found at Wikipedia editing events in the San Francisco Bay Area as a volunteer organizer or a mentor for new editors.

“My intro talk isn’t sugar-coated,” she says. “It explains that working on Wikipedia means convincing other editors that your edits are legitimate, and that this isn’t always easy. I don’t think it’s helpful to attempt to get new underrepresented editors into the project by saying everything is fun and fair on Wikipedia—that’s misleading. It’s honest to explain both the joy and the frustration.”

New editor contributions are often reverted by Wikipedia editors when mistaken for vandalism but this is not the case for those mentored by Gustafson. “Part of my work at events is to actively defend the articles the newcomers are building,” she explains. “Watchlisting the articles and reviewing the edits so that I can defend them against speedy deletions and any future deletion discussions. I also go through the articles after the event to fix up any newbie mistakes, to also protect against deletion attempts. If somebody starts arguing with one of my new editors, I step in like a 5000-pound gorilla and write talk page messages.”

Gustafson understands that not every participant in a one-day editing workshop will become a long-term contributor. However, she believes that training newbies is worth it for reasons that she explains to them during her workshops:

“Knowing how to edit Wikipedia means you can shape many people’s knowledge about a thing, because a huge number of people look to Wikipedia for background knowledge, including politicians, journalists, lawyers, government staff, businesspeople, and teachers.”

Samir Elsharbaty, Digital Content Intern
Wikimedia Foundation

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Wikimedia Research Newsletter, May 2017



“Wikipedia matters”: a significant impact of user-generated content on real-life choices

Reviewed by Marco Chemello and Federico Leva

Improving Wikipedia articles may contribute to increasing local tourism. That’s the result of a study[1] published as preprint a few weeks ago by M. Hinnosaar, T. Hinnosaar, M. Kummer and O. Slivko. This group of scholars from various universities – including Collegio Carlo Alberto, the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) and Georgia Institute of Technology – led a field experiment in 2014: they expanded 120 Wikipedia articles regarding 60 Spanish cities and checked the impact on local tourism, by measuring the increased number of hotel stays in the same cities from each country. The result was an average +9 % (up to 28 % in best cases). Random city articles were expanded mainly by translating contents taken from the Spanish or the English edition of Wikipedia into other languages, and by adding some photos. The authors wrote: “We found a significant causal impact of user-generated content in Wikipedia on real-life choices. The impact is large. A well-targeted two-paragraph improvement may lead to a 9 % increase in the visits by tourists. This has significant implications both in macroeconomic and microeconomic scale.”

The study revises an earlier version[supp 1] which declared the data was inconclusive (not statistically relevant yet) although there were hints of a positive effect. It’s not entirely clear to this reviewer how the statistical significance was ascertained, but the method used to collect data was sound:

  • 240 similar articles were selected and 120 kept as control (by not editing them);
  • the sample only included mid-sized cities (big cities would be harder to impact and small ones would be more susceptible to unrelated oscillations of tourism);
  • hotel stays are measured by country of provenance and city, allowing to measure only the subset of tourists affected by the edits (in their language);
  • as expected, the impact is larger on the cities whose article was especially small at the beginning;
  • the authors cared about making contributions consistent with local policies and expectations and checked the acceptance of their edits by measuring content persistence (about 96 % of their text survived in the long-term).

Curiously, while the authors had no problems adding their translations and images to French, German and Italian Wikipedia, all their edits were reverted on the Dutch Wikipedia. Local editors may want to investigate what made the edits unacceptable: perhaps the translator was not as good as those in the other languages, or the local community is prejudicially hostile to new users editing a mid-sized group of pages at once, or some rogue user reverted edits which the larger community would accept? [PS: One of our readers from the Dutch Wikipedia has provided some explanations.]

Assuming that expanding 120 stubs by translating existing articles in other languages takes few hundreds hours of work and actually produces about 160,000 € in additional revenue per year as estimated by the authors, it seems that it would be a bargain for the tourism minister of every country to expand Wikipedia stubs in as many tourist languages as possible, also making sure they have at least one image, by hiring experienced translators with basic wiki editing skills. Given that providing basic information is sufficient and neutral text is generally available in the source/local language’s Wikipedia, complying with neutral point of view and other content standards seems to be sufficiently easy.

Improved article quality predictions with deep learning

Reviewed by Morten Warncke-Wang

A paper at the upcoming OpenSym conference titled “An end-to-end learning solution for assessing the quality of Wikipedia articles”[2] combines the popular deep learning approaches of recurrent neural networks (RNN) and long short-term memory (LSTM) to make substantial improvements in our ability to automatically predict the quality of Wikipedia’s articles.

The two researchers from Université de Lorraine in France first published on using deep learning for this task a year ago (see our coverage in the June 2016 newsletter), where their performance was comparable to the state-of-the-art at the time, the WMF’s own Objective Revision Evaluation Service (ORES) (disclaimer: the reviewer is the primary author of the research upon which ORES’ article quality classifier is built). Their latest paper substantially improves the classifier’s performance to the point where it clearly outperforms ORES. Additionally, using RNNs and LSTM means the classifier can be trained on any language Wikipedia, which the paper demonstrates by outperforming ORES in all three of the languages where it’s available: English, French, and Russian.

The paper also contains a solid discussion of some of the current limitations of the RNN+LSTM approach. For example, the time it takes to make a prediction is too slow to deploy in a setting such as ORES where quick predictions are required. Also, the custom feature sets that ORES has allow for explanations on how to improve article quality (e.g. “this article can be improved by adding more sources”). Both are areas where we expect to see improvements in the near future, making this deep learning approach even more applicable to Wikipedia.

Recent behavior has a strong impact on content quality

Reviewed by Morten Warncke-Wang

A recently published journal paper by Michail Tsikerdekis titled “Cumulative Experience and Recent Behavior and their Relation to Content Quality on Wikipedia”[3] studies how factors like an editor’s recent behavior, their editing experience, experience diversity, and implicit coordination relate to improvements in article quality in the English Wikipedia.

The paper builds upon previous work by Kittur and Kraut that studied implicit coordination,[supp 2] where they found that having a small group of contributors doing the majority of the work was most effective. It also builds upon work by Arazy and Nov on experience diversity,[supp 3] which found that the diversity of experience in the group was more important.

Arguing that it is not clear which of these factors is the dominant one, Tsikerdekis further extends these models in two key areas. First, experience diversity is refined by measuring accumulated editor experience in three key areas: high quality articles, the User and User talk namespaces, and the Wikipedia namespace. Secondly, editor behavior is refined by measuring recent participation in the same three key areas. Lastly he adds interaction effects, for example between these two new refinements and implicit coordination.

Using the more refined model of experience diversity results in a significant improvement over baseline models, and an interaction effect shows that high coordination inequality (few editors doing most of the work) is only effective when contributors have low experience editing the User and User talk namespaces. However, the models that incorporate recent behavior are substantial improvements, indicating that recent behavior has a much stronger impact on quality than overall editor experience and experience diversity. Again studying the interaction effects, the findings are that implicit coordination is most effective when contributors have not recently participated in high quality articles, and that contributors make a stronger impact on content quality when they edit articles that match their experience levels.

These findings ask important questions about how groups of contributors in Wikipedia can most effectively work together to improve article quality. Future work is needed to understand more about when explicit coordination is most useful, and the paper points to the possibility of using recommender systems to route contributors to groups where their experience level can make a difference.


Predicting book categories for Wikipedia articles

Reviewed by Morten Warncke-Wang

“Automatic Classification of Wikipedia Articles by Using Convolutional Neural Network”[4] is the title of a paper published at this year’s Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries conference. As the title describes, the paper applies convolutional neural networks (CNN) to the task of predicting the Nippon Decimal Classification (NDC) category that a Japanese Wikipedia article belongs to. This NDC category can then be used for example to suggest further reading, providing a bridge between the online content of Wikipedia and the books that are available in Japan’s libraries.

In the paper, a Wikipedia article is represented as a combination of Word2vec vectors: one vector for the article’s title, one each for the categories it belongs to, and one for the entire article text. These vectors combine to form a two-dimensional matrix, which the CNN is trained on. Combining the title and category vectors results in the highest performance, with 87.7% accuracy in predicting the top-level category and 74.7% accuracy for the second-level category. The results are promising enough that future work is suggested where these will be used for book recommendations.

The work was motivated by “recent research findings [indicating] that relatively few students actually search and read books,” and “aims to encourage students to read library books as a more reliable source of information rather than relying on Wikipedia article.”

Conferences and events

See the research events page on Meta-wiki for upcoming conferences and events, including submission deadlines.

Other recent publications

Other recent publications that could not be covered in time for this issue include the items listed below. contributions are always welcome for reviewing or summarizing newly published research.

Compiled by Tilman Bayer
  • “Open strategy-making at the Wikimedia Foundation: A dialogic perspective”[5] From the abstract: “What is the role of dialogue in open strategy processes? Our study of the development of Wikimedia’s 5-year strategy plan through an open strategy process [in 2009/2010] reveals the endemic nature of tensions occasioned by the intersection of dialogue as an emergent, nonhierarchical practice, and strategy, as a practice that requires direction, focus, and alignment.”
  • “Wikipedia: a complex social machine”[6] From the abstract: “We examine the activity of Wikipedia by analysing WikiProjects […] We harvested the content of over 600 active Wikipedia projects, which comprised of over 100 million edits and 15 million Talk entries, associated with over 1.5 million Wikipedia articles and Talk pages produced by 14 million unique users. Our analysis reveals findings related to the overall positive activity and growth of Wikipedia, as well as the connected community of Wikipedians within and between specific WikiProjects. We argue that the complexity of Wikipedia requires metrics which reflect the many aspects of the Wikipedia social machine, and by doing so, will offer insights into its state of health.” (See also earlier coverage of publications by the same authors)
  • “Expanding the sum of all human knowledge: Wikipedia, translation and linguistic justice”[7] From the abstract: “This paper.. begins by assessing the [Wikimedia Foundation’s’ Language Proposal Policy and Wikipedia’s translation guidelines. Then, drawing on statistics from the Content Translation tool recently developed by Wikipedia to encourage translation within the various language versions, this paper applies the concept of linguistic justice to help determine how any future translation policies might achieve a better balance between fairness and efficiency, arguing that a translation policy can be both fair and efficient, while still conforming to the ‘official multilingualism’ model that seems to be endorsed by the Wikimedia Foundation.” (cf. earlier paper by the same author)
  • “Nation image and its dynamic changes in Wikipedia”[8] From the abstract: “An ontology of nation image was built from the keywords collected from the pages directly related to the big three exporting countries in East Asia, i.e. Korea, Japan and China. The click views on the pages of the countries in two different language editions of Wikipedia, Vietnamese and Indonesian were counted.”
  • “‘A wound that has been festering since 2007’: The Burma/Myanmar naming controversy and the problem of rarely challenged assumptions on Wikipedia”[9] From the abstract: “The author’s approach to the study of the Wikipedia talk pages devoted to the Burma/Myanmar naming controversy is qualitative in nature and explores the debate over sources through textual analysis. Findings: Editors brought to their work a number of underlying assumptions including the primacy of the nation-state and the nature of a ‘true’ encyclopedia. These were combined with a particular interpretation of neutral point of view (NPOV) policy that unnecessarily prolonged the debate and, more importantly, would have the effect, if widely adopted, of reducing Wikipedia’s potential to include multiple perspectives on any particular topic.”
  • “The double power law in human collaboration behavior: The case of Wikipedia”[10] From the abstract: “We study [..] the inter-event time distribution of revision behavior on Wikipedia [..]. We observe a double power law distribution for the inter-editing behavior at the population level and a single power law distribution at the individual level. Although interactions between users are indirect or moderate on Wikipedia, we determine that the synchronized editing behavior among users plays a key role in determining the slope of the tail of the double power law distribution.”
  • “Wikidata: la soluzione wikimediana ai linked open data”[11] (“Wikidata: the Wikimedian solution for linked open data, in Italian)
  • “Open-domain question answering framework using Wikipedia”[12] From the abstract: “This paper explores the feasibility of implementing a model for an open domain, automated question and answering framework that leverages Wikipedia’s knowledgebase. While Wikipedia implicitly comprises answers to common questions, the disambiguation of natural language and the difficulty of developing an information retrieval process that produces answers with specificity present pertinent challenges. […] Using DBPedia, an ontological database of Wikipedia’s knowledge, we searched for the closest matching property that would produce an answer by applying standardised string matching algorithms[…]. Our experimental results illustrate that using Wikipedia as a knowledgebase produces high precision for questions that contain a singular unambiguous entity as the subject, but lowered accuracy for questions where the entity exists as part of the object.”

Ephraim ChambersCyclopaedia (1728)

  • “Textual curation: Authorship, agency, and technology in Wikipedia and Chambers’s Cyclopædia”[13] (book) From the publisher’s announcement: “Wikipedia is arguably the most famous collaboratively written text of our time, but few know that nearly three hundred years ago Ephraim Chambers proposed an encyclopedia written by a wide range of contributors—from illiterate craftspeople to titled gentry. Chambers wrote that incorporating information submitted by the public would considerably strengthen the second edition of his well-received Cyclopædia, which relied on previously published information. In Textual Curation, Krista Kennedy examines the editing and production histories of the Cyclopædia and Wikipedia, the ramifications of robot-written texts, and the issues of intellectual property theory and credit.”


  1. Hinnosaar, Marit; Hinnosaar, Toomas; Kummer, Michael; Slivko, Olga (2017-07-17). “Wikipedia Matters” (PDF). p. 22. 
  2. Dang, Quang-Vinh; Ignat, Claudia-Lavinia (2017-08-23). An end-to-end learning solution for assessing the quality of Wikipedia articles. OpenSym 2017 – International Symposium on Open Collaboration. doi:10.1145/3125433.3125448. 
  3. Tsikerdekis, Michail. “Cumulative Experience and Recent Behavior and their Relation to Content Quality on Wikipedia”. Interacting with Computers: 1–18. doi:10.1093/iwc/iwx010. Retrieved 2017-08-01.  Closed access / author’s pre-print
  4. Tsuji, Keita (2017-05-26). Automatic Classification of Wikipedia Articles by Using Convolutional Neural Network (PDF). QQML 2017 – 9th International Conference on Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries. 
  5. Heracleous, Loizos; Gößwein, Julia; Beaudette, Philippe (2017-06-09). “Open strategy-making at the Wikimedia Foundation: A dialogic perspective = The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science”. p. 0021886317712665. ISSN 0021-8863. doi:10.1177/0021886317712665.  Closed access author’s preprint
  6. Tinati, Ramine; Luczak-Roesch, Markus (2017). “Wikipedia: a complex social machine”. ACM SIGWEB Newsletter: 1–10. ISSN 1931-1745.  Closed access
  7. Dolmaya, Julie McDonough (2017-04-03). “Expanding the sum of all human knowledge: Wikipedia, translation and linguistic justice”. The Translator 23 (2): 143–157. ISSN 1355-6509. doi:10.1080/13556509.2017.1321519.  Closed access
  8. Youngwhan Lee; Heuiju Chun (2017-04-03). “Nation image and its dynamic changes in Wikipedia”. Asia Pacific Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship 11 (1): 38–49. ISSN 2071-1395. doi:10.1108/APJIE-04-2017-020. Retrieved 2017-08-01. 
  9. Brendan Luyt (2017-05-25). ““A wound that has been festering since 2007”: The Burma/Myanmar naming controversy and the problem of rarely challenged assumptions on Wikipedia”. Journal of Documentation 73 (4): 689–699. ISSN 0022-0418. doi:10.1108/JD-09-2016-0109.  Closed access
  10. Kwon, Okyu; Son, Woo-Sik; Jung, Woo-Sung (2016-11-01). “The double power law in human collaboration behavior: The case of Wikipedia”. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications 461: 85–91. ISSN 0378-4371. doi:10.1016/j.physa.2016.05.010.  Closed access
  11. Martinelli, Luca (2016-03-02). “Wikidata: la soluzione wikimediana ai linked open data”. AIB studi 56 (1). ISSN 2239-6152. 
  12. Ameen, Saleem; Chung, Hyunsuk; Han, Soyeon Caren; Kang, Byeong Ho (2016-12-05). Byeong Ho Kang, Quan Bai (eds.), eds. Open-domain question answering framework using Wikipedia = AI 2016: Advances in Artificial Intelligence. Australasian Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer International Publishing. pp. 623–635. ISBN 9783319501260.  Closed access
  13. Kennedy, Krista (2016). Textual curation: Authorship, agency, and technology in Wikipedia and Chambers’s Cyclopædia. The University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-61117-710-7.  Closed access
Supplementary references:
  1. Hinnosaar, Marit; Hinnosaar, Toomas; Kummer, Michael; Slivko, Olga (2015). Does Wikipedia matter? The effect of Wikipedia on tourist choices. ZEW Discussion Papers. 
  2. Kittur, Aniket; Kraut, Robert E. (2008). Harnessing the Wisdom of Crowds in Wikipedia : Quality Through Coordination. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work. doi:10.1145/1460563.1460572. 
  3. Arazy, Ofer; Nov, Oded (2010). Determinants of Wikipedia Quality : The Roles of Global and Local Contribution Inequality. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work. doi:10.1145/1718918.1718963. 

Wikimedia Research Newsletter
Vol: 7 • Issue: 5 • May 2017
This newsletter is brought to you by the Wikimedia Research Committee and The Signpost
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A Wikipedian’s mission to educate others—one Chilean at a time: Sarah Chambers



Photo by Victor Grigas, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Sarah Chambers’ professional life began at 16 as a spa receptionist in the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A musician at heart, she learned early that holding down a job was a necessity—even more so in Chile. Over the years she has worked as a freelancer, however, she found a new passion after her introduction into Wikipedia.

“I was working with a startup company with people from Ghana, and the guy started talking to me about traditional culture in [his country],” said Chambers, now 29. “And I thought, oh, I bet there’s nothing [about it] in the Spanish Wikipedia. And sure enough, there were a few things in English, but not much.”

Chambers wrote an article about Ghanian Kente cloth and translated it into Spanish. “Almost nothing exists about Ghana in Spanish,” she tells us.

She began watching and supporting her partner—Wikipedian (Wikipedista en Español) Eduardo Testart—from the sidelines, “getting my feet wet a little at a time.”

“I always wanted to help volunteer physically more than online,” said Chambers, explaining her early journey. “I’m a big proponent of volunteering in person. So coming to meetings, helping out with the events and logistics, that’s really how I got my start in the Wikimedia movement, not by the computer.”

Today, Chambers is the Board Secretary for Wikimedia Chile, an independent movement affiliate organization. Recently, through her dedicated efforts, her chapter coordinated a two-day workshop and edit-a-thon celebrating International Women’s Day.

It was the first event of its kind that Chambers took a lead in organizing, and it ended up being “our most successful edit-a-thon,” she said.

Concerned that she would need additional support for the event, Chambers used social networking to gain interest and find collaborators. Through Wikipedia Chile’s Meetup group—Wiki Force Chile — and other online users, she was able to partner with the Women Who Code and Girls In Tech meetup groups.

“You’ve got to find similar groups that can help leverage your talents, your interests, so that you both win,” Chambers explained. “So basically, we found similar groups that were looking to do a similar thing—International Women’s Day. Everybody won.”

Excitedly, Chambers shared how the event panned out:

We actually had a full house … almost 40 people came for the workshop, which is pretty hardcore. It was about three to four hours. And then we always go out, that’s the key, I think, signature, of Wikimedia Chile. We always go out to have lunch or drinks after an event. And we invite everybody, if they want, to hang out afterwards … [to] continue the conversation. And it’s not all nerds. We talk about life, we talk about music, where you’re from, what you like to do. So that is the really rewarding part, too, is the bonding experience, of being able to share with other people.

And then the day after, we had the edit-a-thon. Which we had probably about 15-17 people come. It was a Sunday. We consider this a success because almost every single person wrote an article who was there.

It was a good experience because we really got into the off-shoots and capabilities. There was a contest going on … to name an article … in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and I came [up] with … La Mujer Que Nunca Conociste, which is The Woman You’ve Never Known.

So we had a contest there that the participants could continue participating in. That was just wonderful because the stars aligned and everybody came. And people were telling me please, please, we hope this is not a once a year thing. You have to come back and do this again.

Despite her successes with the local chapter, Chambers said there are challenges in working in Chile. Many Chileans, she said, don’t begin their professional life until they are older, so often times she works with individuals who have little work experience. There’s also less of a focus on volunteerism, an altruistic activity that is vital to the Wikimedia movement, which is run by volunteers from all around the globe.

“Volunteering does not have the same concept as in the United States,” Chambers said. “In the United States, you could wake up, you go outside and you go to any charity organization or big organization and say, ‘I want to volunteer.’ And that same day, they will get you a desk or a place, and you do a task and you start volunteering immediately. In Chile, it does not work like that at all. It’s a very formal system. Even nonprofits are run like businesses because the law kind of demands that they act so, and the requirements are very similar.”

Chambers doesn’t let anything stop her as she finds ways to grow her local chapter and provide ideas for other Wikipedians around the globe. Some of these include educating others about Wikipedia via Chromecast, continuing to host collaborate events, networking with potential Wikimedia funding partners and, of course, good old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

Interview by Jonathan Curiel, Senior Development Communications Manager
Profile by Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, Wordsmith, Communications
Wikimedia Foundation

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Wikimedia Foundation mourns the loss of Bassel Khartabil, Syrian Wikimedian and global open culture advocate



Photo by Joi, CC BY 2.0.

The Wikimedia Foundation is profoundly saddened by the news of the death of Wikimedia community member and open culture advocate Bassel Khartabil, also known to some as Bassel Safadi. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and communities around the world.

Bassel was detained by the Syrian government on March 15, 2012, amid arrests on the one-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising. He had been missing since October 2015, when he was removed from the Damascus prison where he was being held. We maintained hope that Bassel was safe and would ultimately be released by government captors. However, his wife, Syrian human rights lawyer Noura Ghazi Safadi, shared this week in a statement that he had been executed shortly after being taken from Adra prison.

Bassel was a leader, advocate, and member of many open culture communities; he had a pivotal role in the development of the open source movement in the Arabic-speaking world. In addition to his advocacy for and contributions to Wikimedia—many of which were made anonymously—he was project lead and public affiliate for Creative Commons Syria, a friend of the Global Voices community, a free software advocate and contributor to Mozilla, the founder of Aiki Lab hackerspace in Damascus, and much more.

Prior to his detainment, he was working on a 3D virtual reconstruction of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, much of which was destroyed by ISIL in 2016. His work to preserve, digitize, and replicate the ancient city has carried on through the efforts of #NEWPALMYRA, a collaboration of 3D modelers, archaeologists, artists, curators, developers, educators, journalists, researchers, and Wikimedians.

In 2014, the European Parliament credited Bassel with “opening up the Internet in Syria and vastly extending online access and knowledge to the Syrian people.” For its 2012 list of Top Global Thinkers, Foreign Policy named Bassel, together with Rima Dali, as #19 for “insisting, against all odds, on a peaceful Syrian revolution.” On March 21, 2013, Bassel was selected for an award by the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards in the category of Digital freedom.

Bassel was known in the Wikimedia movement for his boundless enthusiasm and passion, always encouraging others to share, create, and connect with the world around them. In 2014, he worked with a friend to write anonymously from inside the prison where her was being held. In his inaugural post on the blog, Me in Syrian Jail, he asserted that he had been arrested for his writing, for his ideas. Despite the danger and difficulty, his writing has a sense of triumph, because the “government wanted to shut me up, because it failed and this blog is the [proof].” His tweets, from the same offline blogging project, reminded us that “We can’t fight jail without memory and imagination.”

Like Bassel, we believe in the power of writing, words, and memory. Every day, hundreds of millions of people visit free knowledge projects like Wikipedia, to learn, remember, and create. We gain from the generosity of Wikimedia contributors around the world, but very few us pause to consider the challenges many of those contributors may face. The news of Bassel’s death is a painful reminder of the risk and difficulty so many people confront in simply exercising their fundamental rights to share and learn.

We believe that everyone should be able to speak freely and share freely. We believe that this commitment to expression, openness, and creativity is a reminder of our shared humanity, and the foundation for a better world. The global movement for open cultures and free knowledge is stronger because of Bassel’s contributions. We mourn his loss, and join his family, friends, and communities in honoring his memory. We remain dedicated to the values for which he lived.

Katherine Maher, Executive Director
Wikimedia Foundation

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Update: Wikimedia’s petition against the global extension of search engine delistings



Search engine delistings can make it difficult for users to find their way to free knowledge. Photo by Abrget47j, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Last October, the Wikimedia Foundation filed a petition with the French Supreme Court opposing the worldwide application of the right to be forgotten or right to erasure. This legal doctrine requires search engines to remove (or “delist”) certain information from search results when requested appropriately by European citizens.

In May 2015, the French data protection authority (the CNIL) ordered Google to expand the geographic reach of delistings, and remove the requested information from all of its domains, for users throughout the world, regardless of whether the governing law in their country was similar or distinct. When Google’s offer of a compromise was rejected, it chose not to comply with the order, and challenged it before the Conseil d’État, the French Supreme Court. In our filing, the Wikimedia Foundation argued that delisting, if determined to be appropriate under a given jurisdiction’s laws, should not be expanded to affect search results worldwide. We explained the impact that search engine delistings have on the Wikimedia projects, in making it more difficult for users around the world to find accurate, well-sourced information.

We now provide a brief update on the progress of our petition and Google’s appeal. The French Supreme Court has turned for guidance to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the highest court in the European Union (EU) responsible for interpreting EU law. In the EU, national courts may refer questions to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling to ensure that they are uniformly interpreting EU law. In a ruling (in French) issued July 19, 2017, the Conseil d’État accepted our petition to intervene, among others, and asked the ECJ to answer the following questions. First, does the right to delist mean that search engines must deindex links on all domains, or is the scope of delisting limited to the European Union? Further, if the scope is limited to the EU, should the delisting take place only on the national domain of the requester, or across all EU domains? Finally, should geoblocking be used to ensure searchers in the same country as the requester do not receive the delisted results? After the ECJ rules on these questions, the case will return to the Conseil d’État.

As we mentioned in an earlier blog post, a large proportion of Wikimedia project traffic originates from search engines. The delisting of links in search results makes it difficult for people to find and access neutral, reliable information on Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects. When we receive notice that a project page has been removed from search engine results due to a delisting request, we publicly post these notices for the Wikimedia community’s reference. The global extension of search engine delistings sets a dangerous precedent for how information is shared, documented, and disseminated around the world, reaching far beyond the the Wikimedia projects. Worldwide removal orders are recent, and troubling, trend; on July 20, we blogged about a Canadian Supreme Court decision that similarly calls for Google to remove search results across borders.

No single country or region should be able to control what information the entire world may access. If upheld, the CNIL’s order may encourage countries with weak protections for human rights to require the worldwide removal of important information regarding authorities’ abuses of power, dissenting political opinions, or other crucial topics. The removal of content, particularly in such contexts, fundamentally undermines the Wikimedia vision of a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of human knowledge. We hope that the ECJ will conclude that search engine delistings ordered by a particular court should not extend across the globe. We will continue to provide you with updates as the case proceeds.

Aeryn Palmer, Legal Counsel
Wikimedia Foundation

* Special thanks to Claire Rameix-Séguin and François Gilbert of SCP Baraduc-Duhamel-Rameix for their representation of the Wikimedia Foundation in this case, to Jacob Rogers, Stephen LaPorte, and Jan Gerlach of the Wikimedia Foundation, and to Diana Lee for assistance in preparing this blog post.

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Community digest: Odia Wikipedians document the Asian Athletics Championships; news in brief



Photo by Sailesh Patnaik, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Asian Athletics Championships is an intra-continental sports event organized bi-annually since 1973. The 22nd championship was held in July at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, India, where 655 athletes from 41 countries participated in 21 games. The Odisha Wikipedia community worked with the event organizers in different ways, to document the event on Wikipedia, by holding edit-a-thons (editing workshops), to improve Wikipedia’s content about the championships and releasing official photos of the event under free Creative Commons licenses.

The original plan was for the Indian city of Ranchi, Jharkhand to host the 2017 athletics, but plans changed 90 days before the event when Bhubaneswar was selected as a venue instead. Preparing the Kalinga Stadium and getting ready for the championships in that short period was a challenge for the organizers. However, the state government of Odisha stepped in to assist, and as part of that freely shared knowledge from the championships on Wikimedia projects.

The local Wikipedia community, along with the WikiTungi project in Bhubaneswar, were invited by R. Vineel Krishna, the State Department’s Director of Sports and Youth Services, to organize an edit-a-thon for the Championships. The scope was to improve Wikipedia’s content about the participating Asian athletes.

Before the event, existing Wikipedia articles provided little information on the biographies and accomplishments of some of the participating athletes. Odia Wikipedians collaborated with the Sports and Youth Services Department of Odisha to bridge the dearth of information.

Edit-a-thon participants gathered at the office of CSM Technologies, an event partner for the championships. Fifteen Wikimedians from Bhubaneswar and Puri WikiTungi, with some CSM staff members and new editors participated in the edit-a-thon.

The event started with a basic Wikipedia orientation session for new participants. There was no Wikipedia article for the championships in Odia language, so participants created it in addition to improving the English Wikipedia article. Along with that, 10 new articles were improved and created on both Odia and English Wikipedia. The 2017 Championships page on the English Wikipedia received over 100,000 views during the championships week.

“Wikipedia has been the one-stop source of knowledge for me,” says Alankar Devta, an edit-a-thon participant. “It has helped me learn a lot and prepare for competitions. This is the first time, I got a chance to take part in any Wikipedia edit-a-thon. Apart from that, the articles about the athletes taking part in this year’s Championships are of great help for the readers who may want to search for the athletes with expectations to find useful information about them.”

Wikimedia community members were offered passes to attend the opening ceremony and take photos. We spent four hours taking photos of the 41 participating teams, athletes and cultural events. All were uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. Nearly 19% of the photos taken at the opening ceremony are used on Wikipedia articles.

A major outcome of the edit-a-thon was releasing the content and images of the championship’s official website under a Creative Commons license. 286 images from the websites were added to Wikimedia Commons, of which 47.2% are used on Wikipedia in several languages.

Photo by Athletics Federation of India, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The collection includes images of the athletes during their Heats, Semi Finals, Final, and Medal ceremonies of all four days. 127 images are used in 269 pages on Wikipedia in 27 languages, and many articles added their first image from this collection. WikiProject Women in Red used the images in many female athlete articles. The Odia Wikipedia community and the Centre for Internet and Society are also planning to work with the Wikipedia Asian Month competition to use these images to illustrate Wikipedia articles they work on, in their next edition.

Victuallers, one of the volunteers of Women in Red project, identified athlete photos from the games website collection and used them to illustrate their articles. She has also created new articles of other female athletes.

“I have worked with the Women in Red project since it started,” says Wikipedian Victuallers, who has created many articles for participating female athletes in the Asian Athletics Championships. “Over the past two years, we have helped raise the percentage [of female biographies on the English Wikipedia] from 15.5 to 17%. One of the things that hold us back, though, is that women are less likely to have images available. It’s, therefore, amazing to find that a major athletic event has released hundreds of images with a CC BY-SA license. Participating athletes are all notable and women are fairly well represented. I have downloaded over 100 pictures and cropped group photos to create portraits. We’ve been tweeting the new articles and pictures on @WikiWomenInRed and trying to encourage all to “one up” the Odisha people. It’s a great success and we need more people to follow suit.”

With such collaborative spirit from the Government institutes, the Odia community is planning to get more content from Odisha under a free license. The community has also partnered with the Bhubaneswar Development Authority, to run a global edit-a-thon named Bhubaneswar Heritage Editathon, for documenting the culture and heritage monuments of the city.

Sailesh Patnaik, Odia Wikimedian, and Community Advocate, Access to Knowledge (CIS-A2K), Centre for Internet and Society
Jnanaranjan Sahu, Volunteer Odia Wikimedia, Freelance Web Developer.

In brief

300,000 images from Auckland Museum are now open for free use: The Auckland War Memorial Museum has released over 300,000 images from their collection under Creative Commons CC BY and CC0 licenses. “Our collections are open by default,” Sarah Powell, the museum’s Rights Specialist, wrote on the Auckland Museum blog, “which means that images of collection objects for which no copyright exists, or where copyright has expired, we allow reuse for any purpose, including commercial, as long as Auckland Museum is identified as the source.”

Seattle Wikinic: On 16 July, Wikimedians in Seattle gathered for this year’s summer Wikinic. Every year the group gathers for a picnic in the summer where Wikipedians can play, eat and spend some leisure time together. This year’s Wikinic was held at the Gas Works Park in Seattle.

Wikipedia and tourism: Improving Wikipedia’s content about your city may increase tourist visits to it by 9% according to an experiment conducted by economists in Spain. To measure the impact of improving a Wikipedia entry about a German city on the German Wikipedia, the group improved it using information translated from other languages. They assessed the changes in tourist visits during the next season compared to previous years, where in 95% of the cases improving the article had a positive impact.

Discover Russia, start from Don: The second round of this thematic writing contest organized by the Russian Wikipedia community is open to Wikipedia user participation in any language on Wikipedia. The contest is dedicated to Rostov Oblast memorable sights, in addition to the rich literary heritage of the Don River Area. More information about the contest and how to participate on Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia Library in Kanara: Wikipedians in the Kanara region in India are making progress with their Wikipedia Library program. The program helps provide reliable sources for Wikipedia editors. The Kanara program will support Wikipedians editing in Kannada, Tulu and Konkani languages.

Samir Elsharbaty, Digital Content Intern
Wikimedia Foundation

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Why I write about Michał Heller, cosmologist and priest



Photo by Adam Walanus, CC BY-SA 4.0.

I believe I first heard of Michał Heller in 2008, when he won the Templeton Prize, but it was not until 2010 that I actually read one of his works. I became an avid follower of his work, from books to lectures uploaded online. Knowing this, in 2015 a friend asked me for a list of works to read before meeting with Heller.

This simple question led me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. Today, Michal Heller’s article on the Polish Wikipedia stands at over 130,000 bytes of information, including words, code, and references. The page has nearly 1,200 total edits; I’ve contributed over 850 of them, and helped get the page to “dobre artykuły,” a marker of high quality (see the English equivalent).

See, shortly after the friend asked me that question, I started to wonder how many and which books Heller had actually written, and what fraction of it are the five or so that I had read at that time. There were lists on his homepage and on Polish Wikipedia, but they were both incomplete, outdated, purely chronological (not sorted by topic), and separately counted different editions of the same book. I had enough free time to improve that, and within weeks I posted a sorted list of about 60 books in around 130 editions, with the help of Tomasz Raburski, an administrator on the Polish Wikipedia. Later, I gathered some books from the list, and prepared a longer text on his philosophical and theological views.

After a couple of months, I realised that this work is far more than just entertainment. When Heller gave a public talk in November 2015, he was introduced as an author of more than 60 books. I wondered how the organizers counted that, so that I could compare their list to mine. Surprisingly, they used my list from Polish Wikipedia. They even printed the article and distributed it as a in introductory leaflet for the audience.

Another example of the article’s influence came in October 2016. Heller’s doctorate at Catholic University of Lublin was officially renewed 50 years after awarding it – their way of giving a honorary doctorate when someone has already received one academically. In the ceremony, his work was praised in a speech with structure and sentences that had been clearly inspired by the Wikipedia article. The fact that Wikipedia is used as a source not only by school and university students, but also by university rectors, is an evidence of its power and quality.

Today, the article has been much improved. I expanded the main text with input from Heller’s collaborators in March 2016, and professional photographs taken by Adam Walanus have been added. Much work, however, remains. The article lacks citations in places because I have not read a book references by a previous editor of the article, and I have only read less than half of Heller’s books (much less his hundreds of journal articles), contributing to a selection bias.

The largest problem I face is one of scope: even if the article gains a featured star one day (the highest marker of quality on many Wikipedias), I feel that it will not be enough to summarize his enormous levels of work. Wikipedia generally isn’t a place for an absolutely comprehensive list of an academic’s publications, interviews, talks, lectures, and more.

Photo by Adam Walanus, CC BY-SA 4.0.

You could ask why I do all of this, especially given all of the time and work I have and have yet to put in—my career could benefit from pausing this work, for instance.

The answer is that because the world needs it. For one, philosophy is an often misunderstood field—and Heller’s work is less understood than most, as it branches into fields like theoretical physics. A Wikipedia article, written in summary style, is an accessible entry point for people looking to learn more about Heller and his views. Secondly, even faithful followers of his work are unfamiliar with his contributions to theoretical physics and cosmology. Thirdly, Heller is an excellent author in popular science, avoiding common mistakes of bestsellers – e.g. historical and philosophical misunderstandings, or over-sensational claims.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, is Heller’s usefulness in decoding the relationship between science and religion. A major and very public debate has been happening in places all around the world. Some people try to use scientific methods to prove the existence of a god, others try to do the opposite, some take the middle ground and say that the two are completely unrelated, and more.

I believe that these sorts of discussions need people like Heller, who – without pushing their own beliefs – can point to mistakes and misunderstanding made by one and copied by others. I personally don’t always agree with Heller; indeed, some of his work is probably not as good as it can or should be.

If all of Heller’s contributions were already well summarized somewhere on the Internet, whether Wikipedia or elsewhere, I might not read and write as much about it. But it is missing, and I see a need for it, so I persist.

Michał Tarnowski, Wikipedian

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Great Hera! Wonder Woman’s powers June’s two most popular Wikipedia articles



Photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0.

The trailblazing Wonder Woman film has been in theaters for seven weeks. In that time, it’s become the summer’s top domestic earner in the United States, the top-grossing live-action film ever to be directed by a woman, and it is expected to earn about 3.8 times the $103.3 million it collected in its opening weekend, a heretofore unreached multiplier in the superhero genre.

Its impact extended to Wikipedia as well. Last month, both articles were viewed around 5.5 million times on the English-language version of the encyclopedia, figures that made the two the most-viewed articles on the encyclopedia in June—far outstripping other films released around the same time, like The Mummy and Transformers: The Last Knight. Globally, the article about protagonist Gal Gadot received over 8 million views across all language Wikipedias in June; Wonder Woman followed just behind with 7.3 million.

Wonder Woman was the first solo movie for the comic book series of the same name since its debut in 1941, but it spent a lengthy period in development hell before Patty Jenkins, an old fan of the comic book series, was brought on to direct the film.

“[Jenkins] decided to focus on inclusivity,” says a Wikipedian who edited the film’s Wikipedia article under the username Classicfilms, “as a way to work through the various complications of gender that seemed to stall the film for two decades.” She continues:

Her vision appears to have worked, particularly with that segment of the population who either grew up reading comic books or playing games related to these comic characters, and I think most would agree, that this is a tough crowd. Thus, part of the success of the film lies in the fact that Jenkins grew up reading Wonder Woman comics and paid respect to the numerous narratives that DC comics introduced over the decades with regard to this character (even when Jenkins made her own signature changes).

Classicfilms first edited an article about a Wonder Woman film back in 2006 when screenwriter Joss Whedon was working on a screenplay for the film. The edits to that page, then titled “Wonder Woman (undeveloped film),” were later merged to the character’s article when the idea of a Wonder Woman film appeared to have stalled.

“I was a huge Wonder Woman fan as a child,” recalls Classicfilms, who now holds a PhD in English literature. “This film is something of a dream come true, despite some valid criticism of it. We’ve had so many Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Hulk films; it was time for a Wonder Woman film.”

“My mother was the one who introduced me to Wonder Woman,” Classicfilms said, as it was “a comic book that she grew up reading after it appeared in the 1940s.” She continues:

I first developed an interest in these genres as a child, when I was the only girl on my street to trade X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Avengers comics with the other boys who read them (mostly from the 1960s and 1970s). I first became interested when I read my brother’s comics and realized that there were some very cool female superheroes, such as the Invisible Woman, The Scarlet Witch, The Wasp, and Medusa.

“The DC spectacular we’ve been waiting for,” the Wall Street Journal proclaimed when Wonder Woman premiered, which triggered over five million views for the Wikipedia articles on each of the film and its heroine on Wikipedia during the month of June.

“It is important to update Wikipedia articles when a movie premieres,” says a Wikipedian who edited the page under the username Dash9Z. “We should have the most up-to-date information, such as premiere date, gross, reviews, etc. One of the best things about Wikipedia is having the latest detailed information all in one place.”

“I edited the Wonder Woman article to ensure that its quality was on par with other superhero films,” Dash9Z told us. “Articles for Marvel Cinematic Universe films are usually pretty good quality, and I want to make sure articles for DC Extended Universe films are also good quality.”

For Dash9Z, character development and portrayal was Wonder Woman‘s key to success because “character bonding is something which was lacking a bit in the DC Extended Universe, so it’s good we got to see it in this film. It’s great DC finally did a Wonder Woman movie.”

With all that, last weekend at San Diego Comic Con, Warner Bros. has officially announced that they are working on a sequel to the blockbuster. The film release date was later announced to be December 2019.

Samir Elsharbaty, Digital Content Intern
Wikimedia Foundation

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Iberoconf 2017: How to shape Iberocoop as a space for learning



Iberoconf 2017 participants. Photo by Ayelén Libertchuk, CC BY-SA 4.0.

On 10–12 June, Iberoconf 2017 was held in Buenos Aires. The event was—now more than ever before—a space to encounter, meet, and share information with local Iberocoop affiliates, all located in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries in the Americas and Europe. The conference was set up as a space for learning and strategic planning, to better leverage the network’s impact in the movement; as a place to represent local organizations and their communities; and as a space to centralize demands.

Iberocoop has grown a lot in the last three years, and since the last regional meeting in 2014 we have come a long way to be able to hold this year’s meeting. Far from creating quantitative goals related to creating content on different language version Wikipedias, Iberocoop has began establishing long-term goals towards a clear end: to drive better work by local affiliates, so that this can in turn translate into more strategic impact of our network in a regional level. This has been possible because we have shared lessons learned across Iberocoop for the last three years. We have driven, together, dozens of programs, where we created over 7,000 articles. But numbers alone are not representative of our work.

Our challenge was not understanding if we could work together on writing contests and other programs, but rather, to ask ourselves: Do we want to be a program-driven network? Or do we also want to be a mentoring network for our communities, local groups, and for the region?

At Iberoconf 2017, we designed a meeting where the main goal was to acquire relevant knowledge and skills through practice, and applying knowledge together to generate more impact at the regional level.

We carried out this goal through the following shared lessons:

Involving all participants, from the beginning, in the organization of the conference helps to define goals in a more strategic way.

Wikimedia organizations were more than just participants in the conference, playing an active role as counterparts. Through virtual and in-person meetups, and instant message channels like Telegram, we agreed on the current state of the Iberocoop network. Further, we defined the roles and outcomes of the regional meetup in a participatory way, by means of a survey. This allowed us to create a program that was relevant for the needs and demands of the participating organizations.

Photo by Ayelén Libertchuk, CC BY-SA 4.0.

We designed participatory learning spaces to promote the construction of a support and cooperation network that is stronger and more professionalized.

We avoided session formats like lectures and one-sided presentations. These types of sessions were very present in Iberoconf 2014, and they are usually led by the stronger affiliate groups, which restricts participation from organizations with a different development level. They leave little room for discussion and participation of all groups. For this reason, we promoted hands-on workshops, where working in groups could guarantee a similar learning outcome.

Photo by Ayelén Libertchuk, CC BY-SA 4.0.

We created broad and flexible debate spaces, some created on the spot during the event, to help ensure concrete outcomes.

We organized a structured conference with flexible slots in its debate spaces. We provided general instructions, so that all participants would feel comfortable, and we granted facilitation of these spaces to an external contractor, to guarantee fair participation for all. These spaces defined their content according to the needs and wishes expressed by members of the network; openness and coordination were key to make this happen. As a result, we managed to achieve concrete outcomes, especially in relation to Iberocoop’s stance in the movement strategy for 2030, and also setting concrete demands in an open letter addressed to the Wikimedia Foundation (known as the Buenos Aires Letter).

We made the event into a meeting space to empower the local community and invite new participants to join.

Engaging the local community in international events allows for them to have a better understanding of the movement they belong to. The community played a key part in the organization of the event, and they were involved as mentors of the meeting to incorporate newcomers. For the first time, this leading role allowed that representatives of other affiliates, new editors, and local partners could be part of a regional gathering in an active, inclusive and participatory way.

Video by Wikimedia Argentina, CC BY-SA 3.0. Those with browsers that are unable to watch it should click over to Wikimedia Commons.

Giselle Bordoy, Communications
Wikimedia Argentina

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Appeals court rules in favor of Wikimedia in Brazil



Photo by Rafael Defavari, CC BY-SA 4.0.

We are pleased to announce that the Brazilian Court of Appeals for the state of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil’s second highest court tier) recently ruled in favor of the Wikimedia Foundation in the lawsuit brought by Brazilian musician Rosana Fiengo (also known as Rosanah Fienngo).

In a previous blog post, we announced that the 6th Civil Court of Jacarepaguá in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil ruled in favor of the Wikimedia Foundation in Ms. Fiengo’s lawsuit. Ms. Fiengo went to court to dispute facts in a Portuguese Wikipedia article detailing her career. She claimed that the article’s facts constituted an invasion of her privacy. Wikipedia volunteers had included facts supported by citations that pointed towards interviews that Ms. Fiengo had given to the media in the past.

The Civil Court ruled that using information Ms. Fiengo had previously and personally divulged to the media could not now be considered an invasion of privacy. Ms. Fiengo and her legal representatives decided to continue fighting the case, but the Brazilian Court of Appeals for the state of Rio de Janeiro has now affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The Appellate Court’s decision sought to balance the right to privacy with the freedom of expression, deciding here that any restrictions on the former set of rights did not outweigh the benefits of preserving the right to free expression. According to the Appellate Court, biography is a form of history, and censoring facts about history is an unpalatable restriction on the freedom of expression. Additionally, the right to privacy for any particular person may vary — it may be more significant or less significant depending on the actions and career choices of the person in question. The courts have established that the public may have a protectable interest in learning about certain personal facts of well-known artists, and those facts in turn may inspire members of the public to read and write about those individuals. As illustrated by this decision, the Brazilian courts weigh the rights of the public to access such information when they balance those rights against individual celebrities’ rights to privacy.

The Appellate Court found in favor of Wikimedia based on the importance of the public’s right to access information about public figures.  On the additional claim of sharing false information, the Court pointed to footnotes in the original article which acknowledged that some of the information was contested, and the Court went as far as to say that Wikimedia would not be liable and only be responsible for taking down content if the content was found to be false and defamatory.

The Brazilian courts thus have upheld the Wikimedia Foundation’s mission by protecting access to information and the free sharing of knowledge. Wikimedia will continue to assert the rights of its community as cases such as this one arise.

Jacob Rogers, Legal Counsel
Wikimedia Foundation

We would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to Tania Liberman, Eloy Rizzo, Daniel Shingai and André Muriel from KLA – Koury Lopes Advogados for their excellent representation in this matter. We would also like to extend special thanks to legal fellow Alex Shahrestani for his assistance in preparing this blog post.

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